Eggress vs. Safety: Locked Elevator Lobbies

By Leah Riley with Burnham Nationwide

Tragic events have been an unfortunate way of calling the attention to safety mishaps that could have been avoided. While the number of fires in Chicago office buildings are limited, those resulting in lost of life at times result in code changes. A recurring safety issue that continues to present itself is the lack of egress compliance from locked elevator lobbies.

Chicago Means of Egress

Our current Chicago Building Code (CBC) does not always paint a clear picture with the terms they use, leaving room for misunderstanding and interpretation. The new Chicago Building Code becomes effective for use on December 1, 2019. This better aligns the City of Chicago’s construction requirements with up-to-date model codes and standards.

The Plans Show It All

A consistent life safety issue identified while reviewing plans relate to full floor tenant spaces where the common and freight elevator lobbies are locked to maintain security with no direct access to a stairway. A fail secure condition is desired, but not permitted.

Egress doors must be keyless in the direction of travel at all times. An allowable exception per Section 13-160-269 (current CBC) and 1010.10.1.9.8 (new CBC) is use of a delayed egress locking system (electromagnetic locks) which deactivates upon loss of power, activation of sprinkler or automatic fire detection system or operation of door hardware with release in not more than 15 seconds. Buildings must be fully sprinklered and the door must swing in the direction of egress travel.

The scenario: In a locked elevator lobby condition, with a fire or other emergency in a building, people without a key or card access could find themselves trapped.

The solution: Install a compliant delayed egress locking system allowing access to stairways within the tenant space.

The pushback: Tenants want to limit any access into their space even in an emergency. 

At the end of the day, life safety must supersede security.

Chicago Permitting Process

The permitting process can be challenging and not knowing the do’s and don’ts from the start can cause delays. What many do not know is, when submitting plans to the Building Department that include these “special” locking systems, a separate permit has always been required. When submitting through a standard process review, electromagnetic locks are cited to be removed or noted as ‘not in scope (NIC)’. However, for plans submitted through the Self-Certification Process, since there is no code review by a plan examiner, many buildings have gone without these special permits.    

The submittal must include plans that identify the lock location, details related to operation, the specific hardware type and notation that all of the requirements per CBC will be met. These are typically submitted by the security or electrical contractor   

Since they are subject to field inspection, it’s important to assure compliant installation that matches the permit submittal before it becomes an issue that could impact occupancy.

*When submitting for the mag lock permit, always make sure the low voltage electrician is licensed in the City of Chicago*


About the Author

  • Leah Riley head shot
    Leah has been with Burnham Nationwide for over 19 years as a Senior Building Code Consultant with a specialty in the American Disabilities Act(ADA).